Simplifying a Complex Case: Ravi Guilty on All Counts in Webcam Spying Trial

On Friday, March 16, 2012, a Middlesex County jury convicted former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi, now 20-years old, of every count of the Indictment under which he was charged.  It was the first case in which invasion of privacy was linked to a hate crime. 

The victim was Ravi’s Rutgers University roommate, Tyler Clementi, who leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge days after Ravi used a webcam to spy on an intimate dorm room encounter between he (Clementi) and an older man.  The case sparked national awareness of sensitive issues that were critical to the trial, including cyber-bullying, teenage suicide, the harassment of gay teenagers, and the impact of evolving technology.

Although the jury found Ravi not guilty of portions of certain counts pertaining to the older man Clementi was seen with during the webcam spying, who was only ever identified as M.B., Ravi was found guilty on a total of 15 counts.  Most significantly, the jury found Ravi guilty of Bias Intimidation, a crime of the Second Degree, indicating that they believed Ravi had targeted Clementi because he was gay and knew his actions would intimidate him.

Bias Intimidation, N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1

a.    Bias Intimidation.  A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of [a specified offense]; N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 (Harassment); N.J.S.A. 2C: 39-3, 39-4, or 39-5 (Weapons Offenses),

(1)  with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or

(2)  knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or

(3)  under circumstances that cause any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.

Generally, bias intimidation is a crime one degree higher than the most serious underlying crime specified.  For example, as in this case, if the underlying crime is a crime of the Third Degree (such as here, where the Defendant was charged with – and convicted of – Invasion of Privacy, contrary to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-9), then the crime of Bias Intimidation is one degree higher, namely, a crime of the Second Degree.

A crime of the Second Degree is punishable by up to 10 years in New Jersey State Prison. Because Ravi is a legal immigrant from India, he now also faces the possibility of deportation upon his release from prison.

Advocates for the gay community called the verdict a landmark, saying that it sent a clear message that intimidation would no longer be tolerated. “This verdict, combined with New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law, sends a powerful signal across the state and, frankly, across the county, that the days of a ‘kids-will-be-kids’ defense to brutal bullying are now over, and thank God for that,” said Steven Goldstein, Chairman of Garden State Equality, an advocacy group.

After the verdict, Clementi’s father preached tolerance in the name of his 18-year old son, who now symbolizes the plight of bullied gay teens. “You can make the world a better place,” he was quoted as saying.  “The change you want to see in the world begins with you.”

Ravi’s sentencing has been scheduled for May 21, 2012.

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